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DIA hotel project delayed -- again

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Press reports about Denver International Airport in the late 1990s included lots of optimistic forecasting about the arrival of a luxury hotel at the airport's doorstep by, oh, no later than 2002 or so. More than a decade later, that hotel still doesn't exist except in the minds of DIA management -- and groundbreaking just got delayed again.

The history of the Grand Non-Hotel is a study in how differently things have evolved at DIA than originally envisioned. After hotel operators balked at the expected high costs (and vacancy rates) of a property so far from town, Denver officials decided it would build and own the hotel, contracting with Westin's parent company to operate it. Then FAA concerns about the design produced more delays, followed by an uncertain/dismal economy.

The proposed 500-room hotel has since been incorporated into a billion-dollar project that includes a commuter rail station south of the airport's terminal, part of the ambitious expansion plans under DIA aviation director Kim Day explored in my feature "Flight Change." Now the Denver Post reports that the design is being retooled again because, as Day explained in a Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce talk, planners want a better fit with the "signature" train station being designed by acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava.

Day has described Calatrava as the project's "guru," and it's clear she wants to give him as much leeway as possible in coming up with a dramatic design for the station and associated bridges and plaza that (she promises) will also complement the existing iconic teepees of the Jeppesen Terminal. Still, there are plenty of reservations, so to speak, about Calatrava's highly sculptural work -- check out other station and bridge projects here -- as well as the viability of the hotel, which Day expects to make a profit by serving as a kind of mini-convention center on the prairie.

The text of Day's prepared remarks to the Chamber folks can be found here. Expect more details to be unveiled in coming weeks.

And maybe even some preliminary designs of what Calatrava has in mind.

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